The Double Switch in Baseball Explained


Baseball Manager Talking to Umpire

When a manager sets the lineup, the only way the batting order can change during a baseball game is by substituting one player for another player. It would be against the rules for a player to bat out of turn. Seems pretty simple, right?

One method managers use to move their players around in the batting order is called the Double Switch. The Double Switch is a substitution strategy managers use to move their relief pitchers to a more favorable spot in the batting order. To execute the Double Switch the manager will first substitute a position player for a relief pitcher and substitute the current pitcher with a position player. Then the manager will swap those two positions on the field.

The double switch may seem complicated at first so let’s start in on what exactly it is, why managers want to make a double switch, and look at a few examples.

The Double Switch Explained

The Double Switch move in baseball is a substitution strategy with the goal of moving the relief pitcher to a better position in the batting order. To understand how this is a strategy, we need to first take a step back and look at some basic rules.

The first rule to understand is that the batting order can not change once it has been set. If managers were allowed to change their batting order at any point in the game, then most managers would make sure their best three or four batters would be coming up to bat in every inning. So if managers want to edit their batting order, they need to use a substitute from the bench.

The second rule to understand is that managers are allowed to switch the fielding positions of their players. So if a manager wanted to swap the center fielder with the left fielder then they can do that at any point during the game. There is no need to use a substitute player if a manager wants to swap one defensive position for another.

With those two rules in mind, we now know that managers are unable to alter the batting order after it has been set and managers are able to swap one defensive position for another defensive position at any time during the game. But if managers want to try and strengthen their batting order during the game, they must swap out a current player with a substitute player from the bench.

Performing the Double Switch

Before the double switch move is implemented, the manager must first tell the umpire about the move. In fact, the manager must tell the umpire about the double switch before crossing the foul line.

The official baseball rules of the MLB addresses the manager needing to first inform the umpire about the double switch:

If a double-switch is being made, the manager or coach shall first notify the plate umpire. The umpire-in-chief must be informed of the multiple substitutions and interchanged batting order before the manager calls for a new pitcher (regardless of whether the manager or coach announces the double-switch before crossing the foul line). Signaling or motioning to the bullpen is to be considered an official substitution for the new pitcher. It is not permissible for the manager to go to the mound, call for a new pitcher, and then inform the umpire of multiple substitutions with the intention of interchanging the batting order

To perform the double switch, the manager must do four things:

  1. Inform the umpire of the double switch move before crossing the foul line
  2. Substitute a position player from the bench for the current pitcher
  3. Substitute a relief pitcher for a current position player
  4. Swap the positions of the two new fielders

The Double Switch Strategy Explained

After understanding what the double switch is you might be asking yourself “why?” What’s the strategy behind the double switch and why would a manager think it’s a good idea?

The double switch strategy in baseball allows the manager to place their relief pitcher in a more favorable spot in the batting order.

This strategy also assumes that the relief pitcher is not a very good hitter. Managers are aware of their pitchers’ ability to hit so using this double switch strategy will place the relief pitcher as far down in the batting order as possible. The idea is that the fewer times a pitcher hits, the stronger the batting order is.

As a general rule of thumb, pitchers are not very good hitters and managers will want to avoid having their pitchers bat if possible. Being a poor hitter is not true of all pitchers, but this general rule of thumb starts to become more and more true the higher up in competition you go.

If you’ve played in Little League then you don’t really see the discrepancy between pitchers and their ability to hit. In fact, Little League pitchers are often the best hitters on their team! But as you move up the ladder in competition, pitchers begin to become more specialized in pitching and don’t focus as much on hitting. This is why you typically see a lower batting average in the Major Leagues for players who are primarily pitchers.

Because managers are looking for ways to gain an edge in any baseball game, they sometimes opt for the double switch method to try to strengthen their batting order. And if they are able to use the double switch method to avoid having their pitchers come up to bat, then they have successfully strengthened their batting order – even if the batting order is strengthened by just a little bit.

But if you’re like me, sometimes you need to see examples of something before the strategy starts to really make sense. So let’s take a look at a common example of the double switch strategy in baseball.

Example of the Double Switch

If you’re watching a baseball game and you hear that a team is going to do a double switch, seeing the end result of that double switch may have you scratching your head. So let’s take a look at a step-by-step breakdown of how the double switch substitution is performed.

And as we’re going through this step-by-step method keep in mind the main goal the manager has in mind from utilizing this strategy – he wants to move the relief pitcher into a more favorable spot in the lineup. Preferably, the relief pitcher would not be batting any time soon.

To begin, let’s imagine we have a lineup that looks like the following:

  1. CF
  2. LF
  3. 1B
  4. SS
  5. 3B
  6. RF
  7. C
  8. 2B
  9. P

Now, the situation is that we just ended the inning and our next batters up are the 7th, 8th, and 9th batters (the catcher, second baseman, and pitcher). The pitcher is getting tired and the manager is ready to bring in a relief pitcher.

If the manager were to only put in a relief pitcher, then that relief pitcher would be the third player to bat in the next inning. But as mentioned previously, the manager is always looking for a way to gain an edge, so he decides to use the double switch strategy instead.

Remember, there are really four steps to implementing the double switch strategy so let’s go through those one by one.

Step 1: The Manager Lets The Umpire Know

The manager must first let the umpire know he is about to make a double switch move and the manager must let the umpire know about this move before he crosses the foul line.

Step 2: The Manager Brings In a Relief Pitcher

In our example lineup, the first batter up in the next inning would be the catcher (7th batter). The manager would like the incoming pitcher to bat as late as possible, so the smart move would be to replace the 6th batter with the incoming relief pitcher. In our example scenario, the player in the 6th spot of the lineup is the right fielder.

So the manager now brings in a relief pitcher to replace the right fielder. In our example lineup, the new lineup would be:

  1. CF
  2. LF
  3. 1B
  4. SS
  5. 3B
  6. RP (in the right field position)
  7. C
  8. 2B
  9. P

Step 3: The Manager Brings in a Position Player

At this point in our example lineup, we now have two pitchers – one in the 6th batting spot and one in the 9th batting spot. And the relief pitcher is now playing right field! In order to re-balance the lineup, the manager will need to bring in a right fielder from the bench.

So in our example scenario, the current pitcher (who is batting 9th) is getting replaced by a right fielder from the bench.

Now that the manager has replaced the current pitcher with a right fielder, our example batting order now looks like the following:

  1. CF
  2. LF
  3. 1B
  4. SS
  5. 3B
  6. RP (in the right field position)
  7. C
  8. 2B
  9. RF (in the pitcher’s position)

Step 4: The Manager Swaps Fielding Positions

Now that the manager has successfully brought in two new players, the last thing to do is swap the fielding position of those two new players.

So the manager swaps the player in right field (who is actually a relief pitcher) with the player who is pitching (who is actually a right fielder). And the double switch is now complete!

The outcome of this double switch is that the relief pitcher is not coming up to bat for another nine batters. Let’s compare the batting order from before the double switch (left-hand side) with the batting order after the double switch (right-hand side).

Before

  • CF
  • LF
  • 1B
  • SS
  • 3B
  • RF
  • C
  • 2B
  • P

After

  • CF
  • LF
  • 1B
  • SS
  • 3B
  • RP
  • C
  • 2B
  • RF

As you can see, a manager would be in favor of this strategy because they can improve their batting order by making sure their pitcher (who is traditionally a poor hitter) is batting as late as possible.

Because the next three batters up in our example scenario would be the 7th, 8th, and 9th batters, the players batting in the next inning would now be the catcher, second baseman, and right fielder.

A Visual Example of the Double Switch

The scenario above outlined the step by step process for a manager to perform the double switch move. For a more visual example, check out this great example from NobodyLA.

Who Invented the Double Switch?

When doing some research on this topic there seems to be some controversy around who invented the double switch. The Double Switch strategy was not something that was well documented so some people have differing opinions on when the double switch started.

Alvin Dark

According to The Straight Dope, the first documented double switch was used in the 1962 World Series game. In the top of the 9th inning, the San Francisco Giants did a double swap with their catcher and pitcher. Which means the manager of the Giants, Alvin Dark, was the first documented case of the double switch.

Clark Griffith

On the other hand, Answers.com lists out Clark Griffith as being the first person to utilize the double switch in 1906.

Clark Griffith was a player-manager and he put himself in to pitch in the eighth inning. When he placed himself into the game as the relief pitcher, he put himself in as a substitute for the catcher. At the same time he put himself in, he also replaced the current pitcher with another catcher from the bench.

This move may be the first-ever documented case of someone in the major leagues utilizing the double switch method.

More In-Depth Look at Who Invented the Double Switch

The two managers listed above, Alvin Dark and Clark Griffith, may be the first documented cases of a manager using the double switch, but the double switch strategy did not become a common occurrence in the major leagues for quite some time. The double switch wasn’t a strategy that was used very often until around the 1960s and 1970s.

For an article that goes more in-depth into the origins of the double switch, and lists out some potential alternatives Alvin Dark and Clark Griffith, check out Bosoxinjection.com’s article on who was the first person to pull the double switch.

Steve Nelson

I'm the owner of Baseball Training World. I live in Denver, Colorado and I enjoy playing baseball on two different adult baseball teams in the surrounding area.

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